This is 2012. Without a doubt, the women's movement has already come a long way. One hundred years ago, women were not permitted to vote, were largely excluded from higher education, and had very limited access to reproductive health care. Since that time, the Supreme Court has established a woman's right to a safe and legal abortion, women have entered college at historical highs, and most recently, President Obama has signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act. With these and other successes, some pundits now raise the question: What more could women possibly want?
I have a novel suggestion: Try asking us.
It may seem like a simple suggestion, but not one that is being acted upon. For example, we have all been watching as the debates over Komen/Planned Parenthood and contraceptives unfold across cable news networks. Perhaps like me, you were puzzled as male after male commentator discussed these issues while ostensibly carrying the banner of "women's health expert." In fact, when it came to whether employers should cover insurance costs for contraceptives, research shows that male commentators out-represented women two to one on cable news programs. And, throughout the month of February -- a month focused on birth control and women's health issues -- only four women appeared on the major Sunday news shows.
Women are also being excluded when it comes to policy decisions that directly impact their health and well-being. Women were practically non-existent at recent House Committee hearings on insurance coverage for contraceptives.
Here in Illinois, the male-dominated House Agriculture Committee (four women, 11 men) has decided to drive the discussion on whether women should be required to view ultrasounds before obtaining abortions. This is not only absurd, but serves as a reminder of an even bigger problem: Women are not proportionately represented among our public leaders. Since five women were elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992 in what was called "The Year of the Woman," the representation of women in national politics remains shameful at best. Of our 100 U.S. senators, only 17 are women. In the House, women constitute 17.7 percent of the membership, or 77 out of 435.
Women also remain a minority among the leaders of corporate America. According to The Chicago Network, while the number of women directors increased last year, we still only represent 15.6 percent of corporate boards. Take a closer look at the executives of Chicago's business community and we are actually moving backward: the percentage of women executive officers decreased to 14.9 percent from 15.8 percent in 2011.
Women should be adequately represented in every debate, discussion and decision that directly impacts us and our families. We don't ask for quotas, but ask how can governing bodies, businesses, or a Sunday talk show produce good decisions or honest reporting without asking women for their opinions?
The issues facing women and girls today are complex and interrelated. Although women have come a long way, the fact remains that if women continue to be ignored when issues impacting us are discussed, there should be no doubt that these problems will worsen. I will be bold and speak for 51 percent of the population for a moment here: We need to demand to be consulted when issues pertain directly to us and our bodies. We demand not only a single seat at the table, but the full and fair representation needed to advance the lives of women and girls, and to turn back attempts to deny us critical resources.
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